The crowd of angry peasants surrounded the cottage, their torches guttering in the wind and rain. From the depths of the mob a shrill voice rang out. “Send the harlot out to us! She is GUILTY and adulterous!”
At the cottage door, a man answered the call, fear written on his face. “She has done nothing wrong! Her husband abandoned her and she came here for my protection!”
From the crowd’s angry heart, an elderly man strode forth, tall and solid despite his years. His features were hidden behind a mask and in his hand he grasped a tall staff, topped with the hideously decayed head of a horse. Its black, stone eyes glittered in the torchlight; as its bony jaw moved, its high, grating voice uttered words of condemnation: “Fool! I can see the lust in your heart! You took the woman; she played her part!”
The old man, his lips obscured by his black mask, uttered his judgment. “You have all heard the Staff of Truth speak! Will you stand by and see Shame and Depravity bring the wrath of the gods on this community? Pull them forth and strike them down!”
A grim smile played upon his thin lips as the mob unleashed its anger.
In the isolated villages of the hills, a cruel and heartless man carries out a lifetime crusade against sin and corruption, endlessly driven to judgment, endlessly pushed toward an empty vengeance by a relic of his past, a staff wrought in a moment of rage. For decades, Modest Slatterbite has traveled among the villages of the hills, rooting out corruption and licentiousness. While traveling, Slatterbite customarily dresses in somber black, with his face hidden behind a black mask. The composed features of the Commedia character known as “The Justicar” keep his face concealed from ally and enemy alike. Goodman Slatterbite has learned to conceal his name and mask his face, as many would oppose his quest to achieve “true virtue” and local authorities seldom welcome the “Whore-Hunter” into their midst.
The years of his quest have taken their toll on the tall ascetic; bitterness and cruelty are stamped on his weatherworn features. Every day, the sharp words of the Staff of Scorn tear at his heart, feeding its anger, driving him forth to bring condemnation, to punish the guilty. With a dull grey blade hung at his hip and a stout black rope under his cloak, he is prepared to overcome any obstacle that stands in the way of his twisted sense of “justice”.
In the tiny village tavern, a cruel voice rang out in tones more suited to a courtroom than an alehouse. “I have seldom seen such a nest of corruption! Are you not aware that you have a notorious adulteress living in your village! Are you not aware that she is not only an adulteress, but is a demonolatrice? THAT is why your children have been stillborn! THAT is why your cattle have been dying! Did you not wonder? Did you not see? The wrath of the gods has fallen upon you and you have done NOTHING! If MY words do not move you, if MY sure knowledge does not touch you, then hear the words of the Staff of Truth!”
With that, the rotting skull began to again speak its high-pitched doggerel: “You have a viper in your midst! Demonic lips she oft has kissed! If you fail this time to pull her down, then doom will strike your foolish town!”
The elderly man pulled his dark, stained rope from beneath his cloak. “Be bold! Your deliverance is at hand; tonight we will together smite the wickedness from among your midst!”
Many years before, young Modest Slatterbite was a well-regarded farmer from a prosperous family, in love with a sweet and gentle girl from a neighboring village. This fair-eyed maiden, named Carelia, was widely recognized as the most beautiful girl the village had seen in many years. At first, the girl returned his affection, but as time passed, his selfish behavior and cruel temper made her more and more uncomfortable. Still, the whole village seemed to feel he was a good match, so she consented when her family insisted that they should be wed. Among the rural folk of their district, “church” marriage is seen as a luxury few can afford. People there often settle for so-called “smithy” marriages, where the couple together cut a coin in half at the local blacksmith’s anvil, each keeping one half. So it was with Modest Slatterbite and his beautiful Carelia.
After they were married, Carelia's husband grew more harsh and domineering with each passing month. He soon dictated how she should dress, who she spoke with, even what she could write in the letters she sent her cousins in the nearby villages. Any hint of resistance from Carelia was punished with cruel words and increasingly violent blows.
The night that he beat her bloody for failing to bear him a child, she fled from his furious outbursts. Torn, covered with bruises, in agony from the bones shattered by her husband’s stout ash staff, the battered girl staggered into the darkness. She hoped to reach refuge among her kinsmen in a village in the next valley, some 15 miles away. The folk of the village never saw the gentle beauty again.
Modest felt remorseful at first, but as the days stretched into months, his regret faded, leaving only anger. How dare the harlot leave him? He had given her everything a woman could ask for, working tirelessly to make a worthy home, and all he had required of her was the obedience that a wife owes her husband!
When Slatterbite heard of a woman in the village who had left her husband and taken up with another man, he was overwhelmed with rage. He grabbed his stout staff from the corner where it still sat, still encrusted with the blood of his missing wife. His mind traveled back to his childhood, when a local hedge-wizard had described a ritual for conjuring up a “pole of scorn”. Lashing the stinking head of a slaughtered horse to the end of the staff, with every twist of the cord he obsessed on the revenge that he yearned for so much, the humiliation that he would inflict if he could. With each knot, he thought of pain; as his nimble fingers braided beads and ribbons into the bloody head’s mane, he thought of suffering. As he worked, the diabolical, half-remembered spell rose unbidden in his mind. Almost in a trance, his fingers finished binding the staff and a strange dizziness and weakness swept over him. As he leaned against the table, trying not to fall, the thing’s black eyes began to focus on him and its maggoty, dead lips peeled back and said, “Well, aren’t YOU an ugly one! Pick me up! There’s work to be done.”
Picking up his cumbersome staff, Slatterbite strode forth to begin his life’s work.
Whore-Hunter, the Staff of Scorn
This grim implement is a stout pole, a good seven feet in height, topped off with the decayed and withered head of a horse. Cracked yellow teeth jut raggedly from the exposed bone where the flesh and hair have peeled away from the dead equine’s muzzle. Beads and gewgaws are woven into the remnant of the creature’s mane and depend from begrimed ribbons hanging from the staff’s gnarled crossbar. Blackened and torn flesh, covered with patchy hair, covers the rest of the gruesome trophy, with black globes of obsidian glittering where the beast’s eyes once were set. As the staff is moved, the eyes seem to shift, watching all around them with a cold glare.
Many years before, the knotted and bent wood of the staff had been painted with intricate designs in ochre and russet red, but a few bare flakes are all that remain. Instead, the disgusting relic is covered with many years’ accumulation of grime and filth.
When carried by Slatterbite, the staff appears to look about animatedly, the jaws clacking open and shut as it condemns the “wicked” in its high-pitched, grating voice. Onlookers sometimes conclude that the jaws’ movement and the harsh, painful voice are the product of skillful ventriloquism from Slatterbite. With his hand hidden among the hanging shreds of flesh and ribbons, perhaps Whore-Hunter’s words ARE entirely the product of his mad hatred. Who knows?
Whore-Hunter acts as if it can see into the hearts of its victims, but it has no such virtue. It IS hard to lie to, noticing the slightest nervousness, seizing on any awkward detail, but it has no real interest in the truth. It is instead driven to unearth hidden sin and to slaughter the wicked, particularly women.